Willie the Boatman could close by Christmas
Uncertainty about the economy and the redevelopment of its neighbourhood could see popular Sydney Brewery Willie the Boatman close before Christmas.
Founder Pat McInerney recently outlined the challenges that the nine-year-old business was facing on a recent episode of the Beer is a Conversation podcast. This week he told Brews News that he had to face the reality that unless conditions improved soon, the business would be closed by Christmas.
McInerney said the trigger for the decision was the venue’s lease which is due to be renewed this Christmas. He explained that current trading conditions meant that his partners were unlikely to commit to its future by signing a new lease.
“It’s been a tough year’s trade,” McInerney told Brews News, with a planned redevelopment of the brewery’s neighborhood falling through.
“Our previous owner had been really energetic and activated the area with some great businesses, they had monthly markets and we had a lot of interesting businesses around us that brought a lot of business to Willie’s.”
McInerney said that the original owner had sold the business for redevelopment, but those plans had fallen through.
“The previous owner sold the property for redeveloped to a developer, the developer kicked out all of our tenants, but now has decided not to do the development and put the property back on the market,” he explained.
“We had 500 tenants on site, now we have less than 40 people and that includes my 15 staff.
“We don’t know who’s going to buy it, we don’t know if they’re going to buy it and just shut the whole place down until they can build what they want to build.”
“Basically we just don’t know what’s going to happen and, unfortunately, we’re coming up to a lease option.”
McInerney said that the change in development plans had left the brewery stranded, despite being part of Sydney’s popular inner-west brewery trail.
“With no development, sadly, there’s just really no reason to come to this precinct other than Willie the Boatman and Sample coffee out the front,” Pat explained.
“We’re in St. Peter’s, which is about 600 metres southeast of the Sydenham station, the start of the beer trail.
“You turn right and you’ve got Hawkes, Philter, Sauce and Grifter.
“To get to the Boatman you have to turn left, walk back towards Newtown, up a hill and enter a basically empty development site, so we’ve got absolutely no foot traffic.”
He said the venue can’t be seen from the road and it’s a journey now to find it.
“And that is a really big problem, when you’ve got so many breweries on one side of the railway line, and only one brewery on the other side of the railway line.
“Really we’re an island.”
McInerney said that despite being confident about the brewery’s health just three years ago, the local issues – added to the broader economic downturn – had seen trade drop by $30,000 per month.
“No small business can sustain that for long, especially when long-term commitments need to be made,” he said.
“Unless the spring and summer trade changes drastically, and soon, we just have to make a decision before Christmas.”
Willie the Boatman opened in 2014, one of the founders of what is now a crowded inner-city brewing scene. The brewery received national attention for its The Albo Corn Ale, named after the local member for Grayndler and now Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.
The business has recently launched a brand refresh to drive sales in an attempt to ward of the closure.
If the brewery closes, it will join a growing list of breweries that have entered administration and liquidation in 2023.
Willie the Boatman founder Pat McInerney recently spoke to the Beer is a Conversation podcast about the changed conditions for craft breweries.